Fridays on Demand: Flywheel

A local ninja (again, not kidding) asked me to review the four movies released to date by Sherwood pictures, the film ministry affiliate of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA.  For this week’s Friday on Demand we have their original 20,000 dollar project, Flywheel, a story about a crooked used-car salesman who goes straight.

Before looking at the movies, this is another excellent time to reread About Lagrandil.com.  Secularists are going to receive no more apology for the following Christian reviews than the Puritan types got about the Kick-Ass films.

The first movie, Flywheel, was not originally intended for nationwide distribution, and that is its chief virtue.  The low-budget Christian Indie film is a morality tale, and there is a tradition in professional criticism to scorn such tales.  But morality tales are one of the oldest, if not the oldest form of storytelling.  If you want to learn the heart and soul of a people, learn two things: the stories of their heroes and the stories for their children.  One will tell you the ideals they hold, the other the practical views they have on life.  And to the modernistic snobs who view any morality in media as inferior, I would point out that no religious loyalty is necessary to acknowledge that theater in the Western tradition revived and grew out of the Christian worship, so there is something to gain from tracking the evolution of religious theater as social expression in its own right.  As such the Sherwood Pictures films are worth critical examination.

Flywheel has the virtue of its origins.  Unpretentious from the start, the film doesn’t try to achieve greatness.  A parking lot, a small office, and a simple home frame the whole story.  The film quality is not great, but there are no great crimes here in terms of cinematography.  The film plays out very much like a community theater piece with an enhanced set budget.  Flywheel does avoid the most common weakness of low-budget production, and that is sound.  There are no boom mikes dropping into the film at random times, and at no time does any character lose their lines or the power of delivery to a difference in balance.

Flywheel is the second-best-written story of Sherwood Pictures’ four films to date, the best being Courageous by far.  The story is more believable than Facing the Giants and Fireproof for different reasons in both cases.  There is no great melodramatic depth at any point in the film, or great flashes of acting genius, but the solid story does not require them.  In fact, the story would not work so well with the more nuanced acting that the same crew produced for later movies, because only the dramatic climaxes would have the ‘volume’ to match the characterizations.  We see simple, common people with standard conversations, and as a result their simple human victories carry through.

There are some flat moments acting from almost every character, but no really empty characters or talking heads.  The soundtrack to Flywheel, like all of Sherwood’s movies, is consistently above average for the indie market.  There are also some moments of genuine gold and surprisingly well-delivered humor.

Like all of Sherwood’s movies, the characterizations of women are weak.  There are no bad women, no really flawed female characters, only perhaps a reporter who has been misled by an evil man, but the full discussion of this glass-doll chauvanism  really belongs in the review for Fireproof, where it is as blatant as it is inexcusable because of the nature of that film.  Here in Flywheel it simply relegates women out of the drama as anything but talking heads or interactive scenery.  The woman will always say/do/believe the correct thing as best they can, so there’s no tension, and therefore no real interest.

There is a powerful, quietly understated father-son narrative here that also carries through to the rest of the Sherwood movies.  It’s a powerful scene when Jay overhears his son correctly analyze and reject his father as someone not to be.  It’s just as powerful when Jay’s hard work at repentance reverses this trend.  The acting here is marvelously quiet, because this isn’t a Lifetime Home Movie, and these are the sorts of injuries that boys and men carry quietly inside of them far more than they open up and emote about, so the drama would have been less had someone wasted money weeping at the camera.

One of the things that sets Flywheel up against Giants and Fireproof is the gut-level willingness to accept loss.  Writer/Director/Actor Alex Kendrick’s character, Jay Austin, is convinced for a good section of the movie that his repentance will cost him his business, and then goes forward doing his best in faith, and if it fails, then it does.  There is some dramatic tension here that makes the payoff worthwhile.  In the next two movies the tensions aren’t held as long, so the dramatic reward when a happy resolution comes off is also difficult.  There is also a nice Mentor archetype provided by the group’s senior mechanic, who guides without pushing more often than not.

There are also times when Flywheel, like all the Sherwood movies, makes prayer the instant miracle pill that it rarely is in true life.  At least with Flywheel the instant-answer prayer is either a set-up for something else (the intern) or already set up by prior actions (the TV follow-up).

This is a solid story, best viewed as a small theater production put on film, and well worth your time.  If you want to buy a copy, I think its humble truth overcomes its few shortcomings and makes this film worth the money as well.

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